Mary Shelley Black (yes, named after the author) is a girl living in 1918. World War I is being fought across the sea and the Spanish Influenza has been wreaking havoc everywhere. After her father’s arrest, Mary Shelley heads to San Diego to live with her aunt. Once there, she is thrown into a world of spirit photography. With so many dying in the war and from the flu, many are desperate for any last contact with their loved ones. Mary Shelley doesn’t believe in these spirit photographers, but strange things have been happening to make her think that maybe she should.
I started reading this book right as Halloween was approaching. I wanted to read something atmospheric, but not too scary (I’m a scaredy cat). This book was so perfect for that! I loved The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters so I was super excited to read this one which I believe is her debut. She writes some of the most interesting historical fiction that I’ve read. She has the historical aspect, but then she also integrates some bit of the supernatural or paranormal. She takes a craze (like spirit photography or hypnotism) and makes it seem so much more real. I loved the real photographs that were scattered throughout the book. Some of them really add to the creepiness factor, but overall it was just a good reminder that even though this is fiction, people actually had to live through the Spanish Influenza Pandemic. I seriously can’t even imagine it.
Mary Shelley was a great protagonist. She was strong and smart in a time when women aren’t really supposed to be either of those things. And not only does she have those qualities, but she’s unashamed of who she is. She clearly thinks other people are idiots if they think that she’s less capable or shouldn’t be so interested in science. Here are a couple of quotes that I particularly liked regarding that:
“Why can’t a girl be smart without it being explained away as a rare supernatural phenomenon?”
“’The road ahead may be rather upsetting for a sixteen-year-old girl. I’m afraid your delicate female eyes and ears will experience some ugliness.’
‘Oh, you silly, naive men.’ I shook my weary head and genuinely pitied their ignorance. ‘You’ve clearly never been a sixteen-year-old girl in the fall of 1918.’”
She is seriously the best character. The other characters were great too. Obviously I wasn’t there, but I feel like Winters did a really good job of creating authentic characters. Mary Shelley’s aunt immediately comes to mind. She was raised to be a housewife. But when the war hits and her husband dies, she’s forced to go to work at the shipyard. She’s toughened up because of this, but there are still times when she’s a proper lady and the reader catches glimpses of that.
Overall, I thought this book was really quite good. I also love that it was set in San Diego and on Coronado Island (that’s where my husband and I went on our honeymoon!). It’s such a pretty area, and it makes a great backdrop for this story. Definitely recommend especially if you have any interest in ghost stories.
Overall Rating: 4
Violence: Heavy. Some gore described, but not explicit.
Sexual Content: Moderate